The 1980s were a strange time for the Australian car industry.
Once upon a time, in 1980s Australia, Senator John Button came up with a strategy to rationalise our local car manufacturing industry. Dubbed ‘The Button Plan’ (its formal name was Motor Industry Development Plan), the idea was for rival manufacturers to share platforms – and models – across their brands, giving us identical cars, but sporting different manufacturers’ badges. Thus, badge-engineering was born.
It’s fair to say the idea wasn’t a success, giving us such memorable motors as the Toyota Lexcen (a re-badged Holden Commodore), the Holden Apollo (originally a Toyota Camry) and the Ford Maverick (in every way but name a Nissan Patrol).
In return for Nissan throwing a few Patrols with Ford badges the way of the Blue Oval, Ford helpfully tossed some Nissan badges at its popular Falcon XF Ute. Thus, the Nissan Ute (or, to give it its correct title, Nissan The Ute) was born.
It was, in every way, a Ford XF Falcon Ute, the only difference being a Nissan badge affixed to the grille, a Nissan decal on the tailgate and a Nissan logo on the otherwise standard-issue Ford Falcon steering wheel.
Under the skin, Nissan’s Ute (internal code XFN) remained identical to the XF Falcon with the Blue Oval’s lusty 4.1-litre inline six-cylinder petrol under the bonnet. Just two trim levels were offered – with either manual or automatic transmission – the basic DX and the slightly better kitted-out ST. Outputs for both were rated at 103kW and 316Nm.
It’s fair to say, like the broader Button Plan – which also gave us such gems as the Holden Nova (a Toyota Corolla), Ford Corsair (Nissan Pintara) and Holden Astra (Nissan Pulsar) – the Nissan The Ute was a flop, with some reports suggesting just 2000 of the rebadged Falcons were sold between 1988-91.
And that makes them quite rare on our roads today, and even scarcer on online used car classifieds. A quick scan of three popular Australian online classifieds sites found exactly zero Nissan Utes on the market. In comparison, there are plenty of Falcon XF utes available, ranging in price from $1500 to $13,000 depending on trim level and condition.
Part of the reason for their scarcity – other than the dismal sales figures – could be the fact that apocryphal stories abound of buyers who would snap up a Nissan Ute at heavily discounted prices from dealers looking to shift metal, and reverse-badge-engineer them, removing all references to the Japanese car company and whacking the trusted Blue Oval back on the grille.
Probably not what the good Senator had in mind when he conceived of the badge-engineered Button Plan.